Outdoor Recreation and Family Cohesiveness: A Research Approach

Article excerpt

Outdoor recreation is perhaps unique among leisure activities in its dependence on public subsidy and public lands for its continued existence and growth. In our profit-oriented market economy, the existence of benefits of various kinds which cannot be effectively marketed by private enterprise is a principle argument for public provision of outdoor recreation areas like state parks. Thus, outdoor recreation more than any other particular type of leisure activity needs to be studied for its non-market social values. One of these non-market social values may be stronger family cohesiveness. This is not to imply that outdoor recreation may be a cure-all for lack of family cohesiveness. Indeed family unity is a complex web involving many factors, many of which are probably more vital than participation in outdoor recreation.

There has been a great deal of research on the importance of mutual leisure interests and activities to the cohesiveness of the modern family, but outdoor recreation has rarely been singled out and studied for its contribution to family cohesiveness. Consequently, the present study was designed to examine the hypothesis that mutual outdoor recreation helps sustain and increase family cohesiveness by inducing processes of social interaction within the family group. The main value of the study lies in the conceptual and methodological approach used, as statistical results from this particular study were limited.

Cohesiveness and its Importance

There are a number of terms that are used in roughly the same way, as the term group cohesiveness; among these are "solidarity," "morale," "bonds of intimacy," and "group unity." All refer to the intensity or quality of the relationship between members of a group.

Charles Horton Cooley (1962), one of the founders of modern sociology, has defined the cohesive family as one in which

   ... the members become submerged by intimate association into a
   whole wherein each age and sex participates in its own way. Each
   lives in imaginative contact with the minds of the others and finds
   in them the dwelling place of his affections, ambitions,
   resentments, and standards of right and wrong. Without conformity,
   there is unity ... (p. 48)

The key word in Cooley's definition is "intimate." The intimacy of the communications between group members forms the conceptual definition of cohesiveness in this study. This definition views cohesiveness in objective terms of actual behavior, the intensity and intimacy of interaction between group members. Non-verbal interaction (mood, tone of voice, facial expression, etc.) are included in the concept of intimate communication.

The bonds of intimacy within the family are highly valued for their own sake, but they also have implications for other socially valued goals such as socialization of children, strengthening of self concepts, personal adjustment, and the companionship of satisfying day-to-day interaction. For this study, family cohesiveness is assumed to be a positive quality.

Characteristics of Outdoor Recreation

There are several unique characteristics of outdoor recreation activities that may serve to intensify interaction and communication in the recreating group.

1. Outdoor recreation is usually a part of a larger trip including planning, travel, and recollection--all of which provide occasions for reinforcing the bonds of intimacy. (Clawson and Knetsch 1963, p. 33; Stone 1965, p. 27)

2. Outdoor recreation is often associated with a group struggle against the environment that induces a strong "we" feeling in the group. Stone has termed this the "Combat Metaphor." (Stone 1965, p. 27)

3. Outdoor recreation often isolates the group from its normal social world. This isolation may tend to intensify interaction. (ORRRCb, p. 31)

4. Outdoor recreation has norms of interaction which often call for spontaneity of interaction and the breakdown of normal social reserves. …